The centrality of music in German aesthetics

Piano Poetry Pantelis Politics


Idealist philosophy and classical music emerged together in Germany in the 1790s.  They were part of the same grandiose cultural project, the creation of a social discipline I shall call Contemplative Conduct, the self-discipline (which Schiller called “Aesthetic Education”) of the middle class.  A major regimen of this discipline is the practices of the Aesthetic Subject, namely, of the Subject as Creator/Artist and as Interpreter/Reader. Idealist philosophy and classical music were the two major domains where Aesthetic Subjects could learn their skills as art makers and art interpreters, and practice their Contemplative Conduct as bourgeois comportment.

Perusing German Aesthetics: Fundamental Concepts from Baumgarten to Adorno, a splendid dictionary of critical keywords that has just come out, I am struck once again by the attention music receives in this domain, both directly (entries on ‘Absolute Music’ and ‘Listening’) and indirectly (entries on ‘Mood/Attunement’ and ‘the Ugly’). In contrast, there are…

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